I just started reading Russell Kirk’s “Rights and Duties”. Very early in the book (pages 6-7!), Kirk quotes a letter that Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay sent to Henry S. Randall in 1857. Randall was an American biographer of Thomas Jefferson. Macaulay was warning that Jeffersonianism would destroy the U.S. The passage from Macaulay’s letter says:

It is quite plain that your government will never be able to restrain a distressed and discontented majority. For with you the majority is the government, and has the rich, who are always a minority, absolutely at its mercy. The day will come when, in the State of New York, a multitude of people, none of whom has had more than half a breakfast, or expects to have more than half a dinner, will choose a Legislature. Is it possible to doubt what sort of a Legislature will be chosen?

To this point, Macaulay’s argument sounds like a typically elitist view against citizen participation in republican government. But his point is somewhat deeper than that superficial analysis would indicate.

Macaulay continues:

On one side is a statesman preaching patience, respect for vested rights, strict observance of public faith. On the other is a demagogue ranting about the tyrrany of capitalists and usurers, and asking why anybody should be permitted to drink Champagne and to ride in a carriage, while thousands of honest folk are in want of necessities. Which of the two candidates is likely to be preferred by a working man who hears his children cry for more bread?

Does that last passage sound like a description of the 2008 election?? Read on:

I seriously apprehend that you will, in some such season of adversity as I have described, do things which will prevent prosperity from returning; that you will act like people who should in a year of scarcity, devour all the seed corn, and thus make the next year, not of scarcity, but of absolute famine.There will be, I fear, spoliation. The spoliation will increase the distress. The distress will produce fresh spoliation.

Sound like Obama’s economic “plan”? Generational theft? So what does this portend for our future? Macaulay goes on:

There is nothing to stop you. Your Constitution is all sail and no anchor. As I said before, when a society has entered on this downward progress, either civilization or liberty must perish. Either some Caesar or Napoleon will seize the reins of government with a strong hand, or your republic will be as fearfully plundered and laid waste by barbarians in the twentieth century as the Roman Empire was in the fifth;–with this difference, that the Huns and Vandals who ravaged the Roman Empire came from without, and that your Huns and Vandals will have been engendered within your own country by your own institutions.

If Macaulay is indeed prophetic, and his argument has certainly been borne out through history in an empirical fashion, we must consider our options. If we fail as conservatives to put the brakes on this downward spiral, is the fate of the USA essentially the same as that of the Roman Empire?? Or are we “too big to fail”? I’d like to think it’s the latter, but how can one argue that the US is too big to fail yet the Roman Empire was not? (or for that matter, the British Empire, the Persian Empire, etc.)

If we don’t accept the argument that the US is too big to fail, then the question is “What comes after the US?”. I won’t try to predict this, but the prospect is certainly frightening.